“Warrior Against Women”: Romney Plays With Fire In Effort To Recapture Women
Last week, Romney campaign press secretary, Andrea Saul, set off a firestorm when she tweeted, “FACT: Women account for 92.3 percent of jobs loss under @BarackObama.”
Before you knew it, the Romney campaign had locked onto the statistic and made it the centerpiece of their effort to turn the corner on the mass defection of female voters to Obama—a stampede that, should it hold up, will make it very difficult for the Governor to defeat the President in November.
The strategy is a tricky one—although it certainly doesn’t hurt the Romney meme that Ms. Saul’s statement is factually true.
However, there is a great deal more to the story and—should women become acquainted with the facts rather than the bumper sticker—Governor Romney may find that he has dug the hole deeper by trying to pull a fast one on female voters. Unlike we male troglodytes, women tend to pay closer attention to the facts because…well…because they are smarter then men.
To get to the truth behind the numbers, we begin with Gary Burtless, a labor market expert with the non-partisan Brookings Institute, who highlights what took place during the recessionary period that began in December 2007.
I think males were disproportionately hurt by employment losses in manufacturing and especially construction, which is particularly male-dominated. A lot of job losses in those two industries had already occurred before Obama took office. Industries where women are more likely to be employed – education, health, the government – fared better in terms of job loss. In fact, health and education employment continued to grow in the recession and in the subsequent recovery. Government employment only began to fall after the private economy (and private employment) began growing again.
Burtless’ perspective is borne out by data that reveals that men lost 5,355,000 jobs during the recessionary period that began in December 2007 and ended in June 2009 when things began turning around, albeit unconvincingly. During that same period, women lost 2,124,000 jobs. Thus, during the recession, roughly 72 percent of all the jobs lost were taken from the men.
Oddly, it was not until things started moving in a better direction that women began experiencing the lion’s share of the pain.
There is a reason for this. What followed the recession were the deep cuts in state and local government jobs—jobs that tend to be filled by women in far greater numbers then men.
According to Joan Entmacher, vice president and director of family economic security at the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, D.C., while the private sector has added more than 2.5 million jobs since March 2010, state and local government jobs have been cut by 500,000—the majority of these jobs once belonging to women.
What’s more, it turns out that this pattern of men getting fired first followed by women losing their gigs just when men are beginning to return to work is a pattern that has held in previous recessions.
So, can you rationally blame this female job loss problem on President Obama?
Some could argue that had the President’s policies brought about a more emphatic recovery, states and localities would be racking up greater tax receipts, giving them more money to spend and, as a result, would not have found it necessary to cut so many of the jobs that have put women out of work disproportionately.
But to make that argument, you would necessarily have to support keeping or returning women to their state and local government jobs.
This is a problem when one acknowledges that it is the Romney side of the political ledger that makes ‘small government’ a hallmark of their reason for being. Thus, even if there were more dollars available to fund government at all levels, it seems fair to point out that conservatives would strenuously argue that the money should remain in the pockets of the taxpayers and not be shuttled off to government coffers to be spent on more public workers.
This is where it gets a bit sticky for the Romney camp.
It’s awfully hard to pursue a position that conflicts with your central reason for being—let alone making it a major campaign plank. If you support smaller government, you necessarily support fewer government employees. If those employees happen to be women— because women make up the majority of people who hold these jobs—you can’t really grouse about their job loss when the very act of their losing the job is a fulfillment of a critically important piece in your political platform.
And if you do decide to grouse, you run the risk of being exposed for a measure of hypocrisy.
It is no secret that a great many of the government job losses have come in education where states have cut back spending dramatically in response to budgetary problems. It is also no secret,as the following chart reveals, that the teaching profession—overwhelmingly dominated by women—has taken a major hit during the recent, post-recession years.
So, do we blame Obama for the firing of so many teachers?
Education budgets are controlled by the states. Of the top ten states that have made the deepest cuts into education, eight of them are under the firm control of Republicans.
Meanwhile, reviewing the only three states that have increased funding for education during the past year—Maryland, South Carolina and Massachusetts—we find that two are led by Democrats. Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina is the only Republican governor in the nation to increase spending on education.
Now, one can again suggest that a more robust recovery would have allowed these GOP governors and legislators to hold onto more of the teaching workforce. However, when it comes to cutting state and local jobs, blaming the President is somewhat akin to blaming him for the state proposals we’ve seen over the past few months attempting to subject women to vaginal ultrasound testing before an abortion is permitted.
At the end of the day, there is simply no rational basis to pin the loss of women’s jobs following the recession on the President. When taking in all the information, the argument just does not hold up.
In some respects, I have sympathy for Governor Romney in having to wear the mantle of a ‘warrior against women’. He didn’t start this. Indeed, there is ample evidence that he has not discriminated against women throughout his career and campaign.While right to life supporters might take issue with my cutting the governor such a break, given Romney’s flip-flop on the subject of abortion, I remain convinced that Romney is, in reality, no more opposed to abortion rights than he was when he was the Governor of Massachusetts.
Of course, the governor didn’t help himself with his milquetoast response to Rush Limbaugh’s attack on Sandra Fluke just as his campaign did him no favors yesterday when it appeared they had never heard of or, at the least, yet to form an opinion when asked about the Lilly Ledbetter Act—the first piece of legislation signed into law by President Obama and one aimed at improving women’s access to the courts to redress pay discrimination.
Fair or not, as the party standard bearer, Governor Romney takes on the troubles caused by Limbaugh and the many GOP state and federal legislators who have come up with some pretty bizarre, old century ideas that are the stuff of the “war against women.” If he’s going to overcome the handicap, I suspect he’s going to have to do much better than attempting a little misdirection in the effort to fool female voters.
Because if the women of America are anything like my own wife—and I strongly suspect that they are—the Governor’s ploy is a non-starter that will easily be found out.
If Romney wants the women to come back, he’s going to have to do much better.
By: Rick Ungar, The Policy Page, Forbes, April 12, 2012